NBA Rookie of the Year. Franchise centerpiece. An unmovable place in history alongside Jordan, Oscar and LeBron. Tyreke Evans was made for this. The 21-year-old Sacramento King is on a course to take over the basketball world, a goal that was in his sights before he even knew it.
Midway through his sophomore year, Tyreke is averaging 17.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists while playing through a painful foot injury for most of the season. His Kings are still looking up in the standings at the rest of the West, but their go-to player gives the organization no reason not to be optimistic.
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It was all mapped out. All of this. Whether it was written down or not isn’t exactly the point. The point is that it’s happening. As we speak.
The way this world works, hardly anything can ever be called a certainty. That’s especially true when looking far into the future; this helps to make assurances in sports even trickier. We are continuously searching for what’s next, and that’s part of the reason why guarantees are hardly ever guaranteed.
Once in a while, though, things just work out as planned.
There’s a mural of Tyreke Evans in downtown Sacramento, Calif., near where the American and Sacramento Rivers meet, in a city so small by industry standards that its tomato farming is famous. The size of the city makes the mural seem much larger than its reported 10-story height and 65-foot width.
When we think big, as in, “Let’s build this middle-schooler up to be one of the baddest, most ruthless dudes out there,” this is what we get. We get Tyreke Evans.
The blueprint you may know was made in 2001. This one technically began two years later. But its roots stretch much deeper than that.
Those roots bore fruits in the form of an NBA rookie season so miraculous, so good, that the only comparable names are LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. Evans, the No. 4 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, joined them last year as the only rookies ever to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in a season. Along the way he dropped a career-high 34 points on the League’s No. 1 defense in Charlotte, outscored the Bulls by himself (11-10) in the fourth quarter of a monumental 35-point comeback win, and went off for 26 points to win MVP of the Rookie Challenge. After beating out Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry for Rookie of the Year, Evans earned an invitation to Team USA training camp in July.
His impact was instant. The kid destined to become perhaps the best player in Sacramento Kings franchise history since Robertson seems intent on proving to everyone his climb to fame will be, or has been, quicker than anyone could’ve expected.
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For years, Sacramento was a lowlight on the NBA schedule. When the franchise first moved from Kansas City to California during the mid-1980s, teams were shocked to find no downtown hotels, and nary a place to eat. Chris Webber, the player whom arguably holds the best-since-Oscar crown Evans is chasing, famously cried on an airplane when he first laid eyes on Sacramento after he’d been traded to the Kings. While it sits at the northern tip of California’s Central Valley and is littered with recreational activities, Sacramento’s only real prominence came from their state government headquarters.
Unsurprisingly, the team struggled. After a playoff visit in 1986, they didn’t return for a decade.
But while the city was never as electrifying as Miami or rich in opportunity like Los Angeles, even though the team was not always competitive, the fans always stuck around. Even before their renaissance at the turn of the century during the Webber era, Sacramento had quietly pocketed 450 sellouts. The Sacramento Bee’s Ailene Voisin, a longtime sports columnist in the area, says that’s because the Kings are the only major professional sports team around.
“The Kings are the sports team that matters,” says Voisin. “And people here love Tyreke.”